Author: Gene A. Bunin

The Elephant in the XUAR: II. Brand new prisons, expanding old prisons, & hundreds of thousands of new inmates

Disciplinary Commission Secretary Yan Bocheng (second from left) during a June 2017 inspection visit to Tumshuq Prison in southern Xinjiang. The prison would start a major facility expansion that year, with an estimated increased inmate capacity in the thousands. This is the second in a series of five articles highlighting the massive expansion of the prison system in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region that has taken place in recent years. The prisons have been running in parallel with the much-covered concentration camps (“vocational training centers”) and possess many of the same traits, interning hundreds of thousands without real due process and engaging in labor exploitation. However, while international action has led to many, if not most, detainees being let out from the camps, those in prisons have been given sentences that often range from 10 to 20 years, and have yet to see any real concessions. The world remains passive on the issue. (Click here to read Part I.) As the news and stories of long prison sentences have started to come out more frequently …

The Elephant in the XUAR: I. Entire families sentenced

This is the first in a series of five articles highlighting the massive expansion of the prison system in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region that has taken place in recent years. The prisons have been running in parallel with the much-covered concentration camps (“vocational training centers”) and possess many of the same traits, interning hundreds of thousands without real due process and engaging in labor exploitation. However, while international action has led to many, if not most, of the camp detainees have been let out as a result of international action; by contrast, those currently in prisons have long sentences and have not seen concessions. The world remains passive on the issue. For Nursiman Abdureshid, June 15, 2020 is now remembered as the worst day of her life. As the day when, after three years of little to no news, she was finally given official confirmation regarding the fate of her disappeared family in Kashgar. The confirmation was delivered via a phone call from a representative of the Chinese embassy in Ankara to Nursiman in …

“99 bad things”: A man’s 2-year journey through Xinjiang’s complex detention network

Editor’s preface: Three years after the start of the mass incarcerations in China’s northwestern Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, there are now dozens of eyewitness accounts testifying to the coercive, violent, and often cruel nature of Xinjiang’s “re-education initiative”. Among these, however, few are as informative, comprehensive, and detailed as Erbaqyt Otarbai’s, a Kazakh truck driver who – following a trip to Xinjiang in May 2017 – found himself caught up in the system for two full years, with the majority of the time spent in detention centers, “re-education” camps, a hospital, an improvised factory, and house arrest. His account – independently corroborated various times over by former cellmates, satellite images, and testimonies for victims that he met along the way – offers a rare and invaluable view of not only the system’s many facets but also of their evolution, from the initial beginnings of the incarcerations, to their intensification, and finally to the authorities’ very visible response to outside pressure, with the facilities being transformed and many inmates being released, yet others being given long …

“You have a health problem, but the ‘Chinese medicine’ won’t help you now – only ‘Kazakh medicine’ can.”

In May 2018, Qaisha Aqan – an ethnic Kazakh businesswoman from Xinjiang – fled the region and escaped to Kazakhstan, where she would remain illegally until finally going public in the September of this year. At the time of writing, she stands trial for illegally crossing the border and is simultaneously applying for asylum in Kazakhstan, a country that is yet to formally grant this status to any refugees from Xinjiang. What follows is her testimony from the first court session, held on November 12, 2019, in which she describes the circumstances that forced her to flee. I, Qaisha Aqan, was born on June 1, 1976 in Wusu City in China. My residential address is in Gongliu County, Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture. The reason why I crossed the border illegally is that I had previously bought tickets in Qorgas City for the bus to Kazakhstan three times, but each time would be among the 5-6 or 7-8 people who were not allowed to cross… [At this point, her lawyer asks her to start over, indicating …